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Clean Machine
Mar. 31, 2017 #10-89 a2z
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Long-eared owl at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.
The elusive long-eared owl

While working at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie this past week, I got a tip from Forest Service ecologist Bill Glass that some owls had been visiting a part of the grassland.

With a general search area in mind, I set out with camera in hand. I don't really see owls all that much, and the ones I do are mostly seen flying fast away from me.

Arriving in the general vicinity of my given clues, I began walking down an old worn-out Joliet Arsenal road. The gravel road was damp after the rain the night before and the overgrowth along the edges was lush with spring buds. About 50 yards down the road I broke out of the growth into more of a shrubby grassland (ideal habitat for long-eared owls); though it was mostly filled with invasive species.

About that time, my eye caught a glimpse of feathers of the owl about 30 feet away. It was perched on a curved branch of autumn olive looking east. I realized at that moment he hadn't seen me yet. I was walking from the west and the wind was roaring as the back end of the low-pressure system from the previous night's storms passed overhead.

I slowly began to creep in, all the while thinking about how good an owl's hearing must be catching tiny mice. I got as close as 15 feet away and got the zoom lens in position as the owl still didn't act as if it noticed me. I took a few snaps as it was and then I gave a quick whistle. The owl turned its head and perked up those ears for which it is named. Fully aware of me now, the owl didn't seem to mind and I got what I needed: a picture and a close encounter with a majestic creature. I stayed for a few minutes and slowly backed away — thankful.

Local Kankakee Audubon member John Baxter tells me the woodland edges near the Perry Farm prairie can house a long-eared owl from time to time. They are very camouflaged and don't move much during the day.

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